Importance of teaching a posture

January 16, 2017 at 04:16 PM · My son is eleven years old by now and started playing the violin one year ago. He is still studiing with the same teacher he started with. We never pushed him towards learning an instrument, it was his very own choice and he even had to be insistent on that. In the first few months he made good progress - with stagnation (and decreasing motivation, although it still is fun to him) since summer.

With his teacher he is working on pieces and etudes, e.g. Wohlfahrt No.16 at the moment. One after another, sometimes for one week, sometimes for a whole month. In my impression fundamental things like tone production, sound point, bowing technique etc. do not play an important role in his lessons. I could still live with that, since there is that idiom (I just cant remember whom we have to thank for it...) that it takes 10 years to play "Twinkle twinkle" beautifully. And neither me nor himself is dreaming of a professional carreer as a musician for him. So no problem to take it a little bit slower.

What really DOES irritate me is something much more fundamental. No matter if sports, music, timbering, painting - almost anything I've learned up to now started with body posture, as a stable fundament to base all the rest on. Well, even after a year my son's body posture seems quite dysfunctional and also harmful to his health. It's hard to describe, but I'll try, and I am curious what you might think about it, especially the teaching folks! (But of course everybody else here is welcome to share in.)

His knees are straightened, he is leaning back a little, and for holding balance he has to stick out his belly quite a bit. Additionally he is holding his violin quite low, approximately at a 45° angle downwards. Despite his Bonmusica shoulderrest (of which I believe he'd be better off without, but that's a different topic...) he's really busy with grabbing his violin, as well with his chin as with his hand. He seems immobilized and not-at-all-relaxed. His left arm is locked by his belly, he can't turn it enough that he could easily reach the G string, so he has to manage the fingerings from D to G string only with his fingers. Shifting out of 1st position he hasn't even started with, but I guess it wouldn't work well that way. Not to speak of the impact on his spine on the long run, if he isn't to quit.

Maybe one part of the problem is his setup (CR & SR), but the best and most individualized setup means nothing if you don't know how you should want to hold your instrument... I try to help as far as possible (no big luck yet, well I'm just a former intermediate level pianist, now MD and beginner violinist myself...) But wouldn't both be within the duties of a teacher? And should be taught in the first few months, and not before just entering conservatory? Aren't such "bad habits" hindering further progress already at a very early stage, and are the harder to unlearn the longer one's sticking with them?!

EDIT: I corrected Bonmusica "chinrest" (as I accidentally wrote) to "shoulderrest". You all are completely right, there isn't such a thing existing... Sorry for my clumsy english!

Replies (36)

January 16, 2017 at 07:13 PM · Change teachers, stat.

Posture is Job #1 for anyone who teaches beginners.

January 16, 2017 at 07:23 PM · Mary Ellen is right. The teacher should have been teaching and reinforcing correct posture from the first lesson. Move on.

January 16, 2017 at 08:03 PM · Swaying back is one way to compensate for holding something (arms and violin) out in front. Slightly straightening the lumbar cure is the healthy answer though. There are plenty of unobtrusive ways to approach that. If his teacher won't address the problem then move on.

January 16, 2017 at 09:43 PM · Posture and bio-mechanics are essential. The description is similar to many of the young musicians that I have picked up from the local public school (until they discontinued the string program in favor of only band instruments).

You mention a chinrest but not a shoulder rest. While there is some discussion I have found that the shoulder rest makes the young musician a lot more confident in holding the violin with the chin and shoulder.

The teacher should model the proper posture and if they don't that is a game changer.

The fact is that people have been playing the instrument for over 400 years and the posture required is well understood but not always taught.

FWIW: I'm a Doflien product and that is what I teach because that method puts an up front emphasis on posture, position from the beginning. In addition every page has at least one duet for student and teacher so the young musician gets used to playing with others from the start and is not thrown when somebody else is playing harmony or even counterpoint. Lastly theory is taught as well which makes a much more complete musician.

January 16, 2017 at 09:45 PM · Thank you. I already thought I was getting old and weird, because nobodys else seems to take noticed and everybody just politely saying, "Oh, how wonderful...!" All the time it's only me who adresses it, but no sustainable reaction from her (teacher). Fact is, the boy likes her - so I will give it a last try to talk to her. Meanwhiles I worked with him the last weeks when he didn't have lessons during christmas vacation, and I'd say I fixed it to maybe 50% yet, today it happened the first time ever that it looked really okay to me for maybe five minutes. That's a start, but he soon gets trapped by bad habits again when I'm not there... So what?

1. It's not my job, and as a relatively new beginner myself I'm afraid to teach him something wrong, and

2. I can't do it alone, she has to join in during the lessons and we have to pull into the same direction...

Thank you for your kindness, now I will not feel like a perfect con man when bringing Up this topic!

January 16, 2017 at 09:48 PM · @George: funny, she also teaches Doflein, but this part she seems to have neglected after the first 2 lessons...

January 16, 2017 at 10:02 PM · I can't recommend this book highly enough: How Muscles Learn - Teaching the Violin with the Body in Mind

January 16, 2017 at 10:20 PM · Great recommendation, thanks! Just bought the kindle edition, no way getting it as a hardcopy in continental europe...

January 16, 2017 at 10:29 PM · Wait Wolfhart 16 at one year? Hmmm....Is it just me or does that seem a little too soon?

January 16, 2017 at 10:47 PM · "Wait Wolfhart 16 at one year? Hmmm....Is it just me or does that seem a little too soon?"

That depends entirely on the student. A 10-year-old beginner learns faster than a four-year-old. On the other hand, I am concerned about the description of this student's posture.

January 17, 2017 at 01:19 AM · have you sat in on your son's lessons to see what is being taught and how?

January 17, 2017 at 01:45 AM · I've got a different vantage on this. This sounds like the lessons I had when I was a kid. To a degree that is uncanny. A study a week, with no concern for fundamentals. Terrible posture. Teacher very friendly and likeable.

Thus I arrive at the same conclusion as Mary Ellen: Change teachers immediately.

January 17, 2017 at 02:30 AM · I have gotten more than one student who came to me after a year or more of lessons with a teacher such as the OP describes, and honestly every time, I wish so much I could tell the parents that they should get all their money back from the previous teacher. Teaching a beginner without correcting position only results in a beginner who is playing harder and harder pieces worse and worse. When they come to me I not only have to start from scratch, I have to start somewhere *behind* the start line because the bad habits must be eradicated before the good habits can sink in.

From the OP's description, I don't think another come-to-Jesus conversation with this teacher is going to do any good. I am afraid the OP is wasting her son's time and her money with these "lessons."

January 17, 2017 at 04:37 AM · In my approach to teaching - from beginner through advanced - I lay great stress on proper posture and positioning. Some teachers try and after a while, may give up. But you have to keep at it and keep at it.

Now, Lord knows, I didn't want to get into a SR thing again. If anyone is interested in my views, they're scattered throughout many a thread on v.com as well as on my website - http://rkviolin.com. But since George brought it up, I feel compelled to respond. It's just one of numerous components of my approach, but my approach does include reviving the almost lost technique of playing - and playing securely and comfortably w.o. a shoulder rest. And this goes to posture and positioning as well. Obviously there are many great players - indeed a preponderance in our time - who are resters. But what I particularly object to is assuming and prescribing its use as the default approach from the beginning - especially in school string classes, when I'm trying to teach something different.

January 17, 2017 at 06:12 AM · I kind of disagree on getting all of the money back because teachers should get paid for the lessons they teach. And yes, posture and position are very important. In my opinion, even if the student doesn't get it absolutely perfect at first, once posture is basically right (i5%+), I would start to slowly introduce some more interesting concepts so the student doesn't get bored out of his/her mind. At the same time, I would continue to perfect posture and position. After all, you should enjoy playing.

January 17, 2017 at 06:24 AM · Well, I was obviously exaggerating to make a point, which was that the parents had been paying for their child to be taught how to play violin, but the child wasn't actually being taught in any meaningful way.

Incompetent teachers should not be teaching at all, let alone charging money for lessons, and I consider a failure to work consistently with beginners on proper positioning to be pretty much the definition of incompetent.

January 17, 2017 at 07:39 AM · Sounds like a really bad teacher. Just reading your description gives me tension all over and I cannot understand why she wouldn't address these fundamental issues. It's not that proper posture or bow hold miraculously fall from the sky if you just wait long enough. Was the bonmusica shoulder rest (you accidentally wrote chinrest) her idea? It may well be that the setup of SR and CR causes or adds to the whole problem, but this is for a more competent teacher to say.

January 17, 2017 at 08:15 AM · Wow. Mary Ellen, if a rasonable and moderate person like you passes an opinion of that strictness, then I guess I should be alarmed, huh?! (Well, I am - so here we are...)

Yes, Mendy, for the first three months I sat in the lessons. The next four months (it was just a matter of time for me getting infected I guess...) I joined in. Then I quit because I felt some communication issues and left it to my son's own choice what to do further.

I went on with YouTube and Simon Fischers Basics while searching for my current teacher, with whom I'm working now since maybe 10 weeks. We started at zero - empty strings, breathing, doing away with tension, then intonation and pitch training... Wouldn't have expected that it might be that hard for piano-tuned ears to get accustomed to pure fifths... After all starting with some very easy duos and an easy student concerto, but completely stepping back from shifting and vibrato for now.

Due to preexistent chronic neck pains I stumbled on Jordan Hayes (inventor of the Kreddle-CR) tutorials even earlier and invested some time on "gear-fiddling". While I'm quite happy with my CR and posture now, I'm still not sure about the SR. (By now I play maybe two third of the time with, and the rest of the time without - which works surprisingly fine - and leave this decision for later.) Coming from medicine and sports, I'm very interested in the biomechanical aspects.

So after some weeks of hard work with my current teacher I'm quite confident about how things develop, it "almost sounds like music-making" and I am able to play the pieces I worked on before on a very much higher level now, even if it's just starting... ;-)

Once I brought my son with me and we worked on his goals for that hour. He quite liked it a bit, but yet he doesn't see the benefits of "dry basic work" over scratching on new pieces, so it isn't easy to convince him to switch. As many people he might mistake the number of pieces played for progress... Additionally my teacher is very busy at the moment and available only in the evenings... (But I guess therefore might be some more good teachers out there...)

Ella - yes, it should mainly be about enjoying to play music. But how long can this work, if progress is limited and sound is scratchy? So, your teaching recipe sounds good, but it has to be followed in ALL it's components... And also from my own experience, I'm afraid that she's just out of concept... As Raphael pointed out, "you have to keep at it and keep at it", even if it may be annoying for both the teacher and the student. But learning an instrument can't be fun exclusively, as we all may know...

Paul - I guess your statement gave me the rest...!

July - yes indeed, Wohlfahrt 16 IS beyond his level, as well as was Wohlfahrt 15 the weeks before. He can learn things from that, but for sure he will have to come back later to draw full the profit from these etudes... (Wished he would continue with Doflein or something like that...) As far as I believe, almost anything would be too early at this point, without a stable posture and a good tone on empty strings...

Thank you all for your thoughts!

January 17, 2017 at 09:49 AM · Just a thought, as the bad habits have been learned find a new teacher who teaches playing without the shoulder rest, that way your son can have a new beginning and dont have to waste lots and lots of time on correcting the things he has learned. Im MD too and to me playing looks a lot healthier without the shoulder rest.

January 17, 2017 at 09:57 AM · Hi Nuuska,

In my opinion, posture is VERY important for all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is playing the violin, to fall into place. Playing the violin though is physically demanding and muscle groups should be strengthened to be able to function adequately during violin playing.

Having said that, no teacher sets out to do a bad job. The fact that he plays from the Wohlfahrt and Doflein books for me, is a sign of wanting to set your son up with solid foundations. Perhaps you should discuss your worries with the teacher involved, as well as with your son.

Time is of the essence here, as when he hits puberty, the last thing your son will want to do is lots of exercises. Most likely he will want to play pieces, rather than the dryer technical stuff, or he will be more likely to give up.

Good posture gets developed over time and it will need addressing in every lesson. It should also be part of weekly work set to practise at home - and then checked the following week. But there is always a lot to do in lesson and sometimes other issues take priority. I very much believe there is a 3-way communication between the pupil, the teacher and the parent. It will be interesting to hear your son's views as well as the teacher's.

Good luck!

Henriette de Vrijer, Pro-Am Strings

January 17, 2017 at 05:36 PM · Maria, that's not the worst idea, I'd guess. Only problem: where I live playing "restless" completely went out of fashion, I can't even remind when I last saw somebody live playing that way. Might be tricky to finde somebody who teaches it. But I'll ask around.

Henriette, basically I agree. I'm sure she is well-meaning and not just lazy, but maybe unexperienced, despite of her so-and-so many years of experience in teaching. Being a proper violinist by far doesn't imply being a proper teacher as well. I'm aware of the high skills, empathy and persistence it needs to make a good teacher, and these don't develop overnight. And actually, she still is pretty young.

She easily feels stepped on her toes (maybe because of her cultural background, but unfortunately it's impossible for me to discuss anything else in japanese than placing a Sushi order...) and then becomes complicated, that's the main reason why I quit a few months ago... You know, it would still be okay for me if she learned "with and from us" - but I still doubt I'm the right one to teach her teaching...

What I sincerely should NOT do is leaving without letting her know why, only because it would be easier that way. So I'll try to adress this a last time, and then so be it...

January 17, 2017 at 09:54 PM · Raphael, et al.,

I played without a shoulder rest for about 30 of my 40 years of playing. However, a neck problem was resolved with the addition of the SR.

My comment is that I've noticed that a lot of the problem with holding the instrument is the fear of dropping it and that tends to become a more forward position that leads to a flatter hand, et cetera. That is just my experience/observation.

Working with a Youth Orchestra I've noticed that a lot of the teachers don't put a lot of emphasis on posture and position. I sit in the rehearsal room and see all kinds of sloppy positions and postures along with beaming parents. My students all have good posture and position because I teach it and explain the bio-mechanics. Most of the poor posture young musicians are stuck in first position and even three or more years in have difficulty with the G-String and general intonation.

That being said, all of the young musicians indicate that they like their teachers and the parents are happy (except when my students advance and theirs don't).

January 17, 2017 at 10:13 PM · George, agree 100%! SR -> no right or wrong (though I wished I could do both ways...). Sloppy position -> lack of left arm mobility with all it's consecutive problems, as your named them...

Why the hell don't they put more care on that? And how can a person (whether young or not) not quit after a few years of programmed frustration? And then they have to hear, "you just were too lazy", "you just lacked talent and musicality", etc. pp. How cruel...! (But you see how easily one gets trapped, huh? Even with private lessons...)

January 17, 2017 at 11:08 PM · Bud - I'm not through yet, but this book is a gem!

From the introduction: "IN DEFENSE OF TEACHERS HOWEVER IT IS DIFlCULT TO TEACH WHAT HAS NEVER BEEN LEARNED! AS LONG AS TEACHER PREPARATION COURSES CONTINUE TO NEGLECT PHYSIOLOGY, KINESTHETICS AND MOVEMENT ANALYSIS AS PART OF THEIR CURRICULUM LITTLE WILL CHANGE IN THE STUDIO OR CLASSROOM."

Johanna: yes the Bonmusica SR was her idea, and his CR seems just to be way to low. He's a tall boy, long neck. Meanwhile he's doing relatively fine with my Wolf forte secondo SR set to the lowest level, and my Kreddle CR in a kind of pseudo-Berber-configuration. So imagine myself playing completely restless at the moment... That's real parent's love! Feels like skiing without pants. Maybe I'm gonna get me some baroque equipment to dig deeper into that ;-)

January 17, 2017 at 11:30 PM · Great posture, and great motion, comes before great sound.

It is imperative that he have a good setup. I'd take a serious look at the chinrest and the choice of a Bon Musica.

January 17, 2017 at 11:59 PM · I find it fascinating that so many are quick to jump to chinrest/shoulder rest suggestions when there is no evidence whatsoever that that's the problem. It may be contributing to the problem but that's impossible to determine without actually seeing the student. We do know that the teacher is definitely a large part of this problem. Fix the posture (or try to fix the posture) first and then it will become obvious what if any adjustments need to be made to the CR/SR.

January 18, 2017 at 01:40 AM · Fixing the posture, and examining the chin rest and shoulder rest, should be done together. Mary Ellen is correct -- it isn't necessarily the problem. But while correcting posture, it should be checked.

Another thing to realize is that as a student grows, the CR/SR may change. It's not something that you figure out once and it's done.

January 18, 2017 at 02:04 PM · Positioning and posture is critically important, but can also be badly taught despite effort, as bodies differ and musicians generally know nothing about physiology. The Athletic Musician has some illustrations of postures adopted by children which are thought to be bad, but are actually natural and balanced. Another, What Every Violinist Needs To Know About The Body uses the term "good posture disease" to make the point about naive notions of posture. So I think that rather than forcing children to adopt what another might think to be good posture, while being mistaken or unaware of what's actually going on because the body is not theirs, students and teachers should try to learn that, by feeling and developing greater awareness of the body and mechanics of playing, together with corrections of errors of understanding and learning.

Why does someone have bad positioning or posture? Because of a misunderstanding of the goals, a misunderstanding of the means, because of inadequate development to support something better, and because it's felt to be better and perhaps is better than a naive attempt at correction given the other conditions.

January 18, 2017 at 05:39 PM · I have a Bon Musica shoulder rest (I believe you meant shoulder rest) and it is fabulous. I imagine that the posture is not a direct result of the shoulder rest, and if it was, it is probably just not bent in the proper shape.

January 18, 2017 at 06:29 PM · Please notice what I emphasized above:

"Obviously there are many great players - indeed a preponderance in our time - who are resters. But what I particularly object to is assuming and prescribing its use as the default approach from the beginning - especially in school string classes, when I'm trying to teach something different."

For more details, if anyone is interested - or interRESTED! ;-) - please visit my website in the "writings" section. http://rkviolin.com

In my approach, the shoulder, arm and hand work together with good form with a more direct connection to the violin with comfort and security. No one can reasonably claim that their way is the only way and neither do I. And none of us have observed the boy in question, so we can only speak to general principles.

January 18, 2017 at 08:52 PM · I agree with J Ray.

While I understand there are some here who use 'posture' as a generic short cut, the term is kinda loaded and means different things to different people. Posture can be body language (e.g. collapsed posture conveying depression, or in the present context, possibly a lack of interest, or leaning in to show interest.) Also a lot of what is considered good and bad is culturally determined (e.g. flat tummy good, bulging bad, which translates as posterior pelvic tilt good, anterior pelvic tilt bad.)

It's more important to focus on quality of movement and function. As J said, the problem with posture is that its focus is largely external and visual, instead of internal and proprioceptive. The observer imposes what looks correct from the outside, and by default from the observer's point of view (i.e. a view which assumes the observer's proportions and ranges of motion, and includes the outsider's body and movement maps.) Focus on quality of movement necessarily differentiates a proper body map, trains new ranges of motion necessary for the activity, and adapts those motions to functions necessary for said activity. It's decidedly action oriented and avoids any reference to appearance, which can get tricky. But the worst part has to do with the perpetuation of the idea that 'bad posture,' whatever that is, causes pain and injury, an idea which doesn't have the evidence to back it up.

January 18, 2017 at 09:24 PM · "Bad" posture is surely that which hampers our playing, or which stresses the body in all the wrong places,and it most certainly leads to pain and injury in the long term (OK, I am a violist..)

In children, I have found that girls maintain a more efficient posture than boys, and the latter can perhaps be more succeptible to curvature of the spine as a result (according to physio-therapists who were treating a couple of apparently well- postured lads.)

January 18, 2017 at 09:50 PM · I can testify that Raphael has some good advice on setup--his article on holding the violin was very helpful for me as I worked on achieving a good, relaxed setup when I began playing again a year and a half ago. I no longer use a shoulder rest and am very relaxed, and I can say that at least in part it's due to Raphael=)

Simon Fischer also has some very good advice on this in his book The Violin Lesson.

Let me add that originally I was just trying to be more relaxed, and not actually intending to go restless. However, after putting the violin on my collar bone and holding it as Raphael advises and setting my shoulder rest up as Fischer advises, I found myself actually holding the violin up without the shoulder rest doing much, so I figured why not try without it at all (and I'd heard it may have some tonal benefit; I know this is controversial so let's not get into that now), and as they say the rest is history. If I need to, I can even hold the violin up without my left hand for brief periods of time, but that may be due to being blessed with a nice flat collar bone area on which to place the violin.

Back to the topic: In short, if you're doing it right the shoulder rest should only be providing some added stability to what is already a stable and secure setup as Raphael explains. If you would drop the violin without the shoulder rest, then there's probably something wrong with your setup, which probably means more tension and less faculty than you could otherwise have.

January 18, 2017 at 10:42 PM · "Why does someone have bad positioning or posture? Because of a misunderstanding of the goals, a misunderstanding of the means, because of inadequate development to support something better, and because it's felt to be better and perhaps is better than a naive attempt at correction given the other conditions."

Or sometimes someone has bad positioning because nobody ever taught them better. I have never met a student who was able to develop a correct set-up without significant input from the teacher.

January 18, 2017 at 11:03 PM · After a year playing intensively, I still have back pain sometimes (intensively means that after that many hours, one should have developed a good position), I hate that I don't control the position of holding the violin, still.

January 19, 2017 at 03:23 AM · I remember I had a meeting with a pro who had agreed to help me evaluate some bows. He asked me to play something with each bow. I started, and he stopped me immediately. There followed a 10-minute lesson on posture! He demonstrated for me, told me I should look at the exact curvature of his back, why that was important, etc., which was very illuminating. Then he asked me to show him which bow I thought was best. He played a bit with it, handed it back to me and said, "Don't buy this. I can't play sautille with this bow."

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